The Pine Journal recently wrote about the unequal broadband access in Northern Minnesota…
John Bergman went from working as a telecommunications analyst for St. Louis County where he could easily access 100 megabytes of data from his work computer to retirement in rural Carlton County, where he uses a dial-up service to get to the internet. He can’t even email a photograph from his home without spending up to an hour.
“Sometimes it can take up to a half hour just to get connections,” Bergman said. “And photos use a lot of data so it might take another half hour to send. And, because of the slow speed of the telephone line, fairly often the connection gets interrupted and you have to start all over again. So I just don’t do it.”
But Bergman isn’t alone and that is why Carlton County (with help from the Blandin Foundation) has been working on a broadband feasibility study with Cooperative Network Services (CNS). Here’ what they found…
The cities of Cloquet and Carlton are in the best shape in terms of broadband, CNS CEO Jason Dale told the Carlton County Board of Commissioners at its Jan. 3 meeting, when Dale and Paul Solsrud presented the results of the study. He noted that “relatively speaking,” services are available which are adequate for most users’ needs in those cities. Other towns along the Interstate corridor also have reasonable options for broadband services.
The report noted, however, that broadband options reduce dramatically just beyond the city limits of the county’s town, and throughout almost all of the rural areas of the county, areas that have very, very low population densities.
“Carlton County is pretty well connected,” said Dale, noting the lines showing existing fiber networks (needed for high speed internet) appear “like interstate highways” on a map of the county. “But you don’t have driveways, or access points, coming off those connections between the towns, schools, hospitals, cell towers and more.”
The issue, of course, is that internet access is not a public service, it is a service provided by for-profit companies who don’t make a good return on their investments in less populated areas. Rural Carlton County is mostly served by CenturyLink and Frontier, both large nationwide corporate entities. Both those companies are taking federal Connect American Funds (CAF II) that will help with the costs of extending their networks within rural Carlton County. Those upgrades must meet a 10 Mb download/1 Mb upload speed, under the terms of the grant money. Neither company wanted to share its exact plans for expansion, so Dale was unable to report which parts of the county will be getting better internet access this year.